The latest addition to my website is António Lobo Antunes‘ Que farei quando tudo arde? (What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?). Like Antunes’ other works, this one is not easy. Antunes writes from the point of view of various narrators, who speak in half sentences, stream of consciousness and repetition. The story is primarily told by Paulo Antunes Lima, the son of a teacher, Judite, and a drag queen, Carlos, who gave him to another couple, who had lost their daughter through illness. Much of the story tells of the drag queen and junkie world of Lisbon, to which Carlos and Paulo belong as well of Paulo’s understandable issues with both his biological and foster parents. No-one in this story can be said to be happy but it does give a fine portrait of a fragmented, grim world, a view Antunes has of the country as a whole.
The latest addition to my website is Emyr Humphreys‘s A Man’s Estate. It tells the story of a small village (and one man who has left the village when a baby) and how the activities of all of them affect all the others. Philip Elis was given up at birth by his mother to his aunt (and late father’s mistress), as his mother was so bitter about her late husband’s behaviour (mistresses, illegitimate child) that she wanted nothing to do with her newly born son. However, the farm on which his mother lives with her second husband and daughter from her first marriage is, technically, Philip’s. He needs the money so he is off to Wales to meet his mother, daughter, and stepfather for the first time. However, most of the novel concerns the inhabitants of the village and the many issues they seem to face and have faced, leading to a general crisis. It is certainly a gloomy novel, full of guilt, revenge and bitterness, but very well told.
Back in January, I commented on the forthcoming Granta list of the best 20 young novelists and, in particular, Philip Hensher’s comments thereon. Hensher had made his own suggestions as to who should be on the list – ten certs: Jon McGregor, Zadie Smith, Ned Beauman, Ross Raisin, Joe Dunthorne, Sarah Hall, Adam Foulds, Samantha Harvey, Nick Laird, and Paul Murray and ten possibles: Stuart Neville, Naomi Alderman, Evie Wyld, Neel Mukherjee, Courttia Newland, Tahmima Anam, Owen Sheers, Helen Walsh, Alex Preston, and Gwendoline Riley. Former Granta editor and Guardian columnist Alex Clark has now published her suggestions as well as an article on how the list is chosen (she was on the selection committee ten years ago). Clark just has one list. Those in bold above are on Clark’s list. She also has
Sam Byers, Edward Hogan, Stuart Evers, Stephen Kelman (of whom Hensher says I think the judges will pass over A.D. Miller and Stephen Kelman, relics of the worst Booker shortlist ever in 2011), Rebecca Hunt, Francesca Segal, Helen Oyeyemi and Kerry Hudson.
There are a couple of surprises. Clark has no Zadie Smith (though she does say that she may well appear again – she was on the list ten years ago). There is a precedent for writers appearing on two lists, with Adam Mars-Jones appearing on the first two lists despite the fact that his first novel was not published till after the second list was published. And Smith is younger than Sarah Hall who (quite rightly) appears on both the Hensher and Clark list. The same applies to Adam Thirlwell who is under forty but appeared on the last list. Neither list seems to be very strong on Welsh or Scottish authors. From Wales, what about Cynan Jones, Caryl Lewis or Gee Williams? And, from Scotland, there are Alan Bissett, Sophie Cooke and Eleanor Thom. Helen Oyeyemi did not make Hensher’s list though she has definitely moved up the rankings in the last couple of months. However, apart from Oyeyemi, Smith, McGregor, Hall and Paul Murray (who is not British but Irish), few have much of reputation, I would have thought.
The results are published by Granta on 15 April and you can bet that there will be a few surprises, including at least two or three who are not on either Hensher’s or Clark’s list and possibly including, as has happened before, two or three writers who have yet to have a novel published. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had on their list a writer who writes in Welsh, Gaelic or some other non-English language? Naah, it’s not going to happen.
The latest addition to my website is François Mauriac‘s Génitrix (Genitrix). This one is still the gloomy tale that we usually find with Mauriac. In this case, it involves a mother who treats her fifty year old son as a child and gets very jealous when he marries a much younger woman. She is even more jealous when the wife, Mathilde, becomes pregnant but not at all disappointed when Mathilde dies following a miscarriage. However, to her horror, she finds that Mathilde dead is far more of a rival for her son’s affection than Mathilde alive. As always, it is not the people who win but the Catholic gloom and guilt.
The latest addition to my website is Juan Marsé‘s El embrujo de Shanghai (Shanghai Nights). This is somewhat different from Marsé’s normal style, in that, while there are strong elements of realism, he does have his more fantastical elements. It is set in Barcelona just after the Spanish Civl War. The fourteen-year old Daniel is the narrator. He has to help an older man who was injured in the Civil War and who is, to say the least, somewhat eccentric. However, he also has to draw a picture of Susana, a fifteen-year old girl suffering from tuberculosis, and he befriends her. Her father, Kim, has had to leave Spain after the Civil War and it is one of his comrades who tells tales to Susana and Daniel of Kim’s dangerous mission to Shanghai to kill a former Gestapo agent and protect the wife of friend. The two stories – the mission to Shanghai, on the one hand, and Daniel, Susana and their friends and family, on the other – alternate and offer a strong contrast to one another. It is certainly one of Marsé’s most interesting books and is readily available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Biographie de la faim (The Life of Hunger). This one is similar to many of her other novels – the story of the young Amélie Nothomb on her travels. In this case, she follows the idea of hunger, not just for food but for anything we want but cannot easily have, while, at the same time, recounting her life as a child and the daughter of a Belgian diplomat. Japan, Bangladesh, Beijing, New York, Burma, Laos and Japan again are all grist to Nothomb’s mill as we get the usually quirky view of exotic cultures as seen from the point of view of a somewhat eccentric Belgian girl/woman as well as a host of amusing anecdotes. If you know Nothomb, you will know what to expect and, if you don’t, you will find this very amusing and pleasant reading.
The latest addition to my website is Parijat‘s शिरिषको फूल (Blue Mimosa), a novel by an Indian-born, Nepali writer and one of only two of her novels translated into English. Parijat was born in Darjeeling but moved to Nepal when she was seventeen and spent the rest of her life there, suffering from various health problems, but still writing poetry, stories and novels as well as being involved in charitable works. This is a very short novel and tells the story of a Nepali man, who has come back from World War II, empty and unhappy, and who has become an alcoholic. He makes friend with another drinker and, through him, meets the man’s three unmarried sisters. He is attracted to the middle sister, but she is headstrong, difficult and aggressive and things do not go very well, particularly when we learn what really happened to him in the war. Though it has been translated into English, it is sadly very difficult to get hold of in English, even though it was republished. A well-known online bookseller is currently quoting just one copy for sale – at £1000 (=$1500).
The latest addition to my website is Carlos Rojas‘ El sueño de Sarajevo [The Dream of Sarajevo]. This is the third book of his Sandro Vasari trilogy and certainly the best. Its is a very complicated book, set in a fictitous mental asylum called The Dream of Reason, where the relatively few patients are both fictitious and historical characters, but many of whom are dead and are there as ghosts. These include Fernando VII, King of Spain, Marcel Proust and the philosopher Descartes. Several of them have lived for several hundred years or died and come back to life. All have witnessed strange events, both historical and fictitious. One has had premonitions about events such as the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand or the assassination of Tsar Nicholas and his family. Many of them cross paths during their excursions through history. Rojas uses all of this to comment on Spain and her history, religion, politics, philosophy, memory and a host of other topics. This is a first-class novel which really deserves to be better known. Sadly, this book has not been translated into English or any other language
The latest addition to my website is Carmen Laforet‘s Nada (Nada; Andrea), a Spanish novel that not only has been translated into English but is in print in English in both the USA and UK. It was published in 1945 and is set immediately after the Spanish Civil War when things were grim, particularly in Barcelona, where the novel takes place. Andrea is an orphan who goes to Barcelona to study at university and stay at her grandparents’ house, a house she remembers from her childhood as being splendid. However, when she arrives, she finds that they have sold some of the building and the remaining parts are dilapidated, piled with furniture, which they gradually are selling off. Moreover, the remaining members of the family – her grandmother, her aunt, two uncles and the wife and young son of one of the uncles – are perpetually squabbling, often with fists. Andrea tries to fit in but finds it very difficult. This novel had considerable success in Spain and was translated into many languages, not least, in part, because it is seen as a metaphor for the situation of Spain after the Ciivil War.
I have just published my latest website statistics. I am not sure if they mean anything, but I note that I have read books from thirteen more countries than six months ago (Bermuda, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Maldives, Moldova, San Marino, Seychelles and Uzbekistan) and have reviewed sixty-six books during that period, though only eleven by women writers. There were seven books each from Ireland and Spain. I expect in the coming six months, Spain will do much better. Indeed, in terms of number of authors read, I expect Spain to overtake Ireland and, possibly, Russia. My current order, based on authors read is USA, England, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Canada and Mexico. Does that reflect the quality of authors of this period? No, I think England, Italy and,possibly, Ireland are too overrated with China, Japan and Argentina too underrated. However, I don’t expect these figures to change much.